Shannon woke up unwillingly. He seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time sleeping, but very little of that time actually getting any rest. He also had a splitting headache, which immediately made him cranky and suspicious. He’d been having some very weird dreams, many of them about a cleft-chinned schmooze he presumed was Gawyn, which put him in an even worse mood. Giving his bulky skirts an impatient twitching, he flounced out into the camp, looking for a fight.
Unfortunately, the only people he met were Nynaeve, Min and Nicola, conferring quietly nearby. And he wasn’t about to pick a fight with any of them, if at all possible.
“All I’m saying is,” Nynaeve was saying calmly, “it wouldn’t hurt to move into a slightly larger encampment, maybe annex a nearby town. We need the infrastructure, and I hate all these trees. We could at least clear-fell a little, just to make a bit of space.”
Min and Nicola, of course, agreed hastily. Shannon stood watching for a few moments, wondering what was going on that he was missing. He’d never expected to hear Nynaeve say a word like ‘infrastructure’, and it was mildly disturbing. His train of thought was interrupted by Nynaeve herself.
“Can we help you, mistress Sidesaddle?”
“Huh? Oh, no, I, um,” Shannon stammered. “Where’s,” he lowered his voice, “you-know-who?”
“I obviously don’t know who,” Nynaeve said in a deceptively sweet voice, “because if I did, I might just have a clue what you’re talking about,” she glanced at Min significantly. “This is about the time at which I would be tempted to tug on my braid, but I won’t, because it is a stupid habit.”
“Right,” Shannon nodded carefully, wondering if this whole episode was a result of marauding Darkfriends, or his own out-of-control ta’verenosity. “Anyways I was, um, talkin’ about Selene.”
“Oh, her,” Nynaeve shrugged. “I think I left her hanging on a hook somewhere,” Min and Nicola laughed desperately. “Why do you ask?”
“I was just a-wonderin’ if it was smart to, y’know, leave her … alone, right now,” he wished Nicola wasn’t standing by, looking attentive. “I was thinkin’, maybe y’all’d be … with her. Helpin’ to teach her.”
“Selene is perfectly fine where she is,” Nynaeve said breezily. “Nothing to worry about. But maybe Min should go and keep her company, just in case she does get lonely,” she cleared her throat. “Min.”
Min, who had been staring in horrified fascination at something just above Shannon’s head, blinked and bobbed an unconscious curtsey. Nynaeve had really let her true colours show since arriving in Salidar. Shannon remembered her being annoying, but not this bad. He began to wonder if Dr. Nick’s bitching had really had some basis after all.
“Oh … yes,” Min babbled. “Yes, right away,” she dashed off, leaving Shannon, Nicola, Nynaeve and an uncomfortable silence behind her.
“I don’t s’pose the name Aran’gar would mean nothin’ to neither of y’all?” he asked conversationally. Nicola shook her head; Nynaeve gave a slight shrug.
“Death sports have never really been my thing,” she remarked.
There was another awkward silence.
“Ah, there you are,” Shannon turned with a sinking sensation, and sure enough Theodrin was marching towards him purposefully. “I thought of a couple more things we can try in order to break that block of yours. Come along, I have two of the Warders quite sodden with apple brandy already.”
“I keep telling y’all I ain’t no channeler,” Shannon gritted. “I don’t have no block, an’ that stuff that all happened was just the Pattern actin’ weird because I’m ta’veren.”
“Who ever heard of such nonsense?” Theodrin said dismissively.
“You, leastwise I’d hope so, since y’all’re meant to be some sorta fuckin’ scholar.”
But his protests went unheeded, and he was led away by the determined probationary Aes Sedai.
“Nae,” Debs said calmly, “we danna want tae torture ye, but we well eff we hav’tae.”
“I caught the word ‘torture’ in there,” Liandrin said, “but that’s about it.”
“Do your worst!” Alanna cried, “anything you do to me, you do to your precious Dragon Reborn!” Liandrin didn’t look quite so sure of herself, but Janica was beginning to suspect she was insane in any case. Her wild-eyed, weathered appearance was a far cry from the irritating honey-braided woman she remembered from the books. “Go on,” Alanna concluded haughtily. “Do your worst!”
“Mazrim Taim is a false Dragon,” Janica explained for the fifth time, “you bonded the wrong guy. So who says we won’t torture you?”
Mazrim, who had at least three times his brother’s brains, let this rather obvious bit of bluffing pass. “I’m willing to bet I could take more punishment than this delicate little thing,” he said menacingly.
“So could I,” Vamps added loudly.
“If you want,” Mazrim went on, “you could leave her with me, and I’ll do it myself. I’m not too worried about a bit of pain,” his look turned into a leer, and Alanna’s defiant expression sagged a little. “In fact, a certain amount of experimentation might be in order.”
“I’m very experimental myself,” Vamps exclaimed. “This one time, I gmph.”
“Maybe we should leave these two alone with the real Dragon Reborn,” Chucky suggested in a low murmur as Janica tied off the weave, “for a bit of segue-into-personal-confessions-during-normal-conversation work.”
“I happen to be a part of Amnesty International, my dear,” Janica pointed out in amusement, “and I couldn’t condone any such cruel and unusual punishment.”
“Hoo’re we goin’tae get the information oota them?” Debs demanded.
“The Great Lord of the Dark-” Alanna began, and was cut off by the dungeon doors booming open.
“Morning,” Bashere said lazily, wandering out of the corridor. He was carrying a small pile of parchments, a quill pen, and had a disinterested expression on his face. “Interrogating Darkfriends? Good good.”
“Can we help you?” Janica asked politely.
“The Lord Dragon has a visitor,” Bashere said, glancing at Vamps. “Shall I tell him the Lord Dragon is involved in crucial high-level zit-popping and boil-scratching today, or that the Lord Dragon is chasing invisible beetles?”
“We’d better go and see who it is,” Janica decided. She gave Vamps a little nudge, and released the Air-gag. “We’d better go and see who it is.”
“Yeah,” Vamps muttered, still glaring at Bashere. Bashere, who had been made aware of the saidin-muzzle placed on Puddin Taim for the protection of everybody, returned the look blandly. “We’d better go and see who it is.”
Up near the entrance to the dungeons, a small group of soldiers were gathered around a plain-looking man with a cloth cap folded anxiously in his hands and a wild look in his eyes. When he saw the Dragon Reborn and his entourage, he wrung the cap violently, and cleared his throat.
“I bring a message from the Nae’blis,” he said, and suddenly his voice changed. “Okay, testing testing, one two. Is it on? Okay,” the voice, unmistakably Angus McSmashie’s even to those who had never heard it before, went on. “Hello, monkeys and various NPCs. An NPC, before Vamps asks and before Chucky or Janica can explain, is a non-player character, like this armed escort and Davram Bashere.”
“He’s good,” Chucky muttered.
“He’s very good,” Janica agreed.
“I’m sending this message to you for two reasons,” McSmashie went on. “First of all, to fulfill narrative requirements. It has come to my attention that too much deviation from the Wheel of Time storyline results in quite destructive attempts from the Pattern itself to return the narrative to its already-chronicled course. We are studying the phenomenon, but so far there’s no telling how intense these rearrangements can be. The second reason is related to the first – we need to talk.”
There was a brief pause, and the sweating prisoner made a bizarre noise with his pursed lips, misting the closest guard with saliva. The onlookers exchanged glances, puzzled at first and then disturbed as they realised that the noise was the recorded sound of Angus shuffling through papers.
“This message should have been delivered on behalf of Sammael,” the American voice went on, “but he has been dead for some time. Balthamel was killed at Falme, and Lanfear is alive and well and not in quite the dire situation you assume. It may seem like I am giving away a suicidal amount of information here, but I assure you, I am not making any sort of classic bad guy blunder. I know we are keeping our respective people well-informed, and I know a fair deal more about your people than you do about mine, even with those two prisoners you have downstairs. What you don’t know is, along with Liandrin and Alanna, you have in your dungeon a Grey Man named Reuben, who has a small communicator ter’angreal. He has been telling me everything.
“An exchange of information, and a discussion on future progress, would be mutually beneficial. I know the classic response of the good guys to an offer of cooperation with the bad guy is noble rejection coupled with matriarchal insult, but think outside the box. I don’t want the game to break before we get to the end, and you don’t want that either. All I’m suggesting is a brief truce, so we can look at the state of play, and maybe establish a sort of framework. We’ll still oppose each other, of course, but we’ll hammer out an agreement on how to do so without resorting to any … cheating.”
“He’s a fine one tae talk,” Janica muttered.
“…to a meeting in neutral territory,” Shadow Monkey was continuing, “I would suggest Shadar Logoth, which may not be exactly neutral, but at least it’s as dangerous to us as it is to you, if not more so. And, unless I have seriously misjudged events, you will be heading in that direction with some Ogier anyway, with the intention of sealing off Waygates.
“Now, this next bit is unfortunate but necessary for narrative preservation,” Angus’s voice went on, “but in order to dilute your sympathy a little I should point out that this messenger, prior to undergoing Compulsion, was convicted of the rape and murder of three novices, under the guise of a sympathetic halfway house operator for the rehabilitation of White Tower rejects. He confessed his crime under humane application of the One Power, and admitted that he was already planning to strike a fourth time. So without further ado, I bid you buh bye.”
The sweating man suddenly groaned, doubled over, and began bleeding from assorted orifices and pores. Within minutes, his wetly flopping body went still, and lay silently in its puddle like a wrung-out sponge.
“The chief of the Forsaken inviting the Dragon Reborn and his followers to a peace talk,” Bashere said, flourishing his quill pen and pretending to tick something off on one of his parchments. “It’s official. I have now seen everything.”